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Petaluma Farms Sued Over "Cage-Free" Labeling

Animal-right group says Petaluma egg processor violates fair competition law by falsely depicting its eggs as free-range and charging consumers more money for the product

 

An animal rights group has filed a class action lawsuit against a Petaluma egg producer claiming the company falsely markets its eggs as cage-free order to charge eco-conscious consumers more money.

The suit, filed in California Superior Court Monday by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, alleges that Judy's Family Farm and Petaluma Farms engaged in unlawful, unfair and fraudulent business practices by creating labels that led consumers to believe they were buying cage-free eggs.

The group says the company did this by designing cartons that have an image of hens frolicking in open fields, leading shoppers to believe they were "free-range". The eggs are sold at Whole Foods, Safeway and Oliver's Market, where they cost more than $4 per dozen, significantly pricier than regular eggs.

According to the suit, the estimated 13,000 hens at Petaluma Egg Farms “spend their entire lives inside modern, barren industrial sheds with no grassy fields and no outdoor access," says the group, and are not raised in wide open spaces in Sonoma Valley, where they are free to ‘roam, scratch, and play.

Nor do they have access to the outdoors and enjoy large communal areas with natural ventilation and sunlight, according to the lawsuit.

The discrepancy between the marketing and the true conditions of the farm constitutes a violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law, False Advertising Law and Consumer Legal Remedies Act, the group says.

On Monday, the websites for both Judy’s Family Farm and Petaluma Egg Farm were down and a message and email sent to the company were not immediately returned.

But in a 2011 Press Democrat story, owner Steve Mahrt said that critics are ill-informed about what constitutes cage-free eggs.

“People have the expectation that all the chickens are outside,” Mahrt told the paper. “That doesn’t happen. That doesn’t happen anywhere.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, cage-free eggs mean that hens are not kept in conventional “battery” cages, although it doesn’t necessarily mean they have access to the outdoors or that the eggs have more nutrients. Nor does it mean the hens are kept in large spaces, but may be crammed into a warehouse shoulder-to-shoulder.

In its lawsuit, filed on behalf of an East Bay resident and other consumers, ALDF asks the court to barr Judy’s Eggs from using images that imply its products come from non-confined hens in an outdoor environment or use language that implies the hens were raised in open spaces.

It also seeks compensation for damages to consumers and a jury trial.

Find a copy of the complaint on the right.

“Americans spend more (money) for higher levels of animal welfare because they find the suffering of egg-laying hens objectionable,” the group wrote in its suit. "Deceptive packaging like that on Judy’s Eggs allows the company to profit from misleading well-intentioned consumers.”

What do you think? Are you concerned about mislabeling on eggs?

Aimee Chagnon October 02, 2012 at 03:59 AM
so people won't be employed if we have humane standards for animals? Really? Where will the jobs go? The eggs will still have to be produced and distributed. That is the weak fallback argument of people who continue to think that we can treat animals any way we'd like as long as we get things for less money and don't rock the boat. When will we wake up to the fact we have an ethical duty to these animals? So as long as government standards are met it's OK? I hardly think that is the moral argument.
Marshall Nau October 02, 2012 at 05:07 AM
If this is all because it shows a chicken eating feed from a grassy field then I can only blame the consumer for not doing their homework. Buy from a friend(farmer) or buy a chicken to feed yourself. These are not the financial times to sue over a simple graphic. Come on people shop smarter.
Joe Gittlmen October 02, 2012 at 06:52 AM
There will still be eggs yes but Petaluma Farms is better then most egg producers on just about every front if you think they are a big factory farm then you really don't understand the issue. Petaluma Farms is relativity small by comparison and a big law suit could force them to scale back causing local people to lose jobs or worse it can shut them down all together and then big factory farm that can get away with being awful get bigger. The wrong people are being targeted here and a local family run farm is being targeted. I have seen the best and worst of how a chicken ranch can operate and for the amount og people Petaluma Farms serves they don't get much better. I don't argue that pastured chickens have a better life but what do you really know about how an operation like that runs? I contest you are reacting with emotion and not from a place of knowledge. The matter is not black and white but as other have said, vote with your wallet and buy eggs some other eggs and just hope you never find out it's not as sunny and rosy as you think it is,
Longest Family in Electrical in Petaluma October 02, 2012 at 02:09 PM
In case none of you know. Petaluma Farms Chicken houses are out here in the Country. If the Chickens are free to roam outside of their quarters they will be consumed by the wild animals that patrol our pastures and land. Steve and Judy Marht are always first to donate their eggs to all who ask for their events or fundraisers. Let's find someone else to pick on and leave these people alone. I would imagine that the Marht's did not design their label, they paid someone to do that for them.(probably not someone who lives or grew up in the Country, just read about it in books) Come on Petaluma let's stand together and support this local business, they always step forward to support us. We need them in our Community!
Petaluman8tv October 02, 2012 at 03:41 PM
This is outrageous. The evil "corporation" in this situation is the animal legal defense fund. This is a blatant attempt to bully a small, locally owned, family run farm. The ALDF is simply using the courts as a weapon. It is the height of absurdity to sue over a cartoon logo, and claim that it implies free range status. It implies that the eggs came from chickens. The ALDF should stop trying to drive small, local businesses into bankruptcy with frivolous, expensive lawsuits. Their actions are deplorable, and devoid of any level of integrity. If you are a ALDF supporter you should require them to represent you ethically, and not allow them to stoop to this level.
Bill Fishman October 02, 2012 at 06:18 PM
I don't like to be told that I should spend more of my money than I have to for something so routine as an egg. Sheri, you are one of my favorite people; but really: Where do you get off . . . !
Stephanie Adams October 02, 2012 at 06:54 PM
I agree that the cartoon is misleading and it certainly would have fooled me. In an ideal world, we would have the time to seek out a local farmer or raise chickens ourselves. We would also have the time to do extensive research on each item we purchase. Unfortunately, I don't live in an ideal world. Like most people, I'm constantly pressed for time and must rely on product labeling to guide my decisions. Whether or not Petaluma Farms is a good corporate citizen is beside the point. If the "happy chickens" cartoon was deliberately misleading (why else would they charge so much more for them?) they are stealing, plain and simple. I have no problem with an appropriate punishment for those caught stealing. ALFD will have to prove their case in court, and if they can, good for them.
Sheri Cardo October 02, 2012 at 09:39 PM
Bill, we can be friendly and not agree on everything. The way I see it, it's all about what we value. Do we value truth in advertising? Do we value good health and good taste? Do we value compassion toward animals? Can we afford to spend a little more for eggs that are more nutritious from chickens that don't suffer every moment of their lives? We all have to answer those questions for ourselves and decide what we can and cannot live with.
Sheri Cardo October 02, 2012 at 09:40 PM
But, bottom line is, we should be able to trust the labeling on products -- because, without that, we can't make good decisions for ourselves and our families.
CC Penn October 02, 2012 at 10:41 PM
Sherry, You say that a chicken is suffering. How do you know, Do you read chicken's minds? Have you ever had a conversation with a a Leghorn Hen. On the ranch I had many one way conversations with Mother Leghorn. She never did respond. You are fooling yourself if you know what a chicken thinks.Is it possible that the feelings you write about are Sheri's? You tell us to run out to Green String and buy eggs and put Petaluuma Farms out of business. Green String and the rest of the "farms" you mentioned could supply enough eggs for a hour of Petaluma's egg needs. Where do you get your ideas?
sadie October 02, 2012 at 11:35 PM
It's advertising!!! I hope these people start a suit against the real deceptive ads. Start with political ads then go after Heineken, then Axe deoderant, and the real bad guys REDBULL GIVES YOU WINGS, really!! I guess some are easly fooled. That should keep the lawers busy or show the absurdity of their actions.
Stephanie Adams October 03, 2012 at 12:48 AM
???? Did this make sense? See Sherri above: But, bottom line is, we should be able to trust the labeling on products -- because, without that, we can't make good decisions for ourselves and our families.
Sheri Cardo October 03, 2012 at 12:49 AM
Again, bottom line is truth in advertising. Here's what three of my friends posted on my Facebook page after recommending this story: --I totally bought into this marketing. We buy (bought) their eggs because they were local and thought they had a good rep. So disappointed. Will be letting them know about it !! --We also were fooled by Judy's, but haven't been buying anything but local pastured eggs from our friends for years now. --Ugh, to think we were buying Judy's as recently as last year, before understanding "pastured" is best. Tacherra is our egg source now. All three of them were paying extra money for these "special" eggs because they cared about the quality of the animals' lives. Petaluma Farms was making extra money by being deceptive. Do you really think that's okay? Do you want to spend your hard-earned money on something that isn't what the produce or manufacturer says it is?
ExaminedLife October 03, 2012 at 03:12 PM
I have to admit that I fell for the "happy chickens" illustration too. I am vegan but my husband isn't, and he's always asked me to buy free-range eggs. I thought I was fulfilling that request by purchasing Judy's eggs. How disappointing.
sadie October 03, 2012 at 05:48 PM
I fell for the happy cows, But after spending hours speaking with them they have yet to talk back like in the ads. I must be doing something wrong.
Bill Fishman October 03, 2012 at 07:47 PM
Yes, Sheri. We CAN get along on this. My problem is that there is no mislabeling of this product People who think that "organic" means "better" are not getting hosed when they buy these eggs. . . . and I don't think a stylized old-fashioned farm scene on the package implies that these are barnyard hens. I think that you object to the science and practice of animal husbandry generally, Sheri. I would hope you would say so. Otherwise, what you really want will be hidden behind entirely subjective debates over how small an enclosure is inhumane, what kind of eggs taste better, and what is actually better for you.
Bill Fishman October 03, 2012 at 08:17 PM
I understand how it is possible to buy into false advertising: I bought a package of bacon once that had a caricature of a happy little pink pig wearing overalls and a straw hat, and playing a banjo! Being a fan of Bluegrass music, and figuring that the pig was now bacon, I called the company headquarters in Dubuque to see if I could get a good deal on the banjo. When they told me there is no banjo, I sued them for false advertising because EVERYBODY knows that a musical pig is calmer and tastier than a non-musical pig.
Megan Backus October 03, 2012 at 11:06 PM
The Animal Legal Defense Fund is asking consumers who purchased Judy’s Eggs mistakenly believing the hens had outdoor access to contact ALDF--legalcase(at) aldf.org.
Bill Fishman October 04, 2012 at 05:04 PM
One more point, Sheri. We are in the midst of a campaign for Proposition 37, which I will vote for, requiring labeling of genetically-engineered food. This lawsuit against a responsible organic farmer who is head and shoulders above most of his peers, because of the artwork on his packaging, completely trivializes the importance of proper labeling. Examples such as this lawsuit will cost you Proposition 37. You toss the baby out with the bathwater.
Terri October 04, 2012 at 09:35 PM
This is a GREAT idea! Now I know how I can retire early...just sue the company that makes Aunt Jemima. I am pretty sure that they are misleading me into thinking a fat Southern slave makes my syrup! This is so ridiculous. I feel sorry for the small business!
Sheri Cardo October 05, 2012 at 12:40 AM
Prop 37 and the issue of GMO labeling has nothing to do with this subject matter, Bill. Perhaps Michael Pollan’s words will have more of an effect than mine. This is from his best-selling book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, taken from the ALDF website (http://aldf.org/article.php?id=2173): “As Michael Pollan references in his book, Petaluma Egg Farm 'has clearly mastered the conventions of Supermarket Pastoral.' “Who could begrudge a farmer named Judy $3.59 for a dozen organic eggs she presumably has to get up at dawn each morning to gather? Just how big and sophisticated an operation Petaluma Eggs really is I was never able to ascertain: The company was too concerned about biosecurity to let a visitor get past the office.” Biosecurity. Yeah, just try visiting that “farm.” In my book, your friend doesn’t have a small farm, he has an egg factory where the needs of the hens who provide his livelihood don’t rank at all. Maybe it is better than a traditional battery hen operation, but only marginally so. His chickens aren’t provided a decent life because it’s all about profit. Maybe that’s okay with you. Maybe you don’t mind eating misery, as Alice Walker has described the eating of factory-housed animals. But for those of us who believe that the animals who provide our food deserve a life without suffering, and that we deserve to receive the healthful product for which we are paying a premium — just give us the truth. That is all we’re asking.
BaileyDog October 06, 2012 at 02:39 AM
Look at the picture and then read the description on the inside of the carton. Then read how they really live. Do the descriptions match?
BaileyDog October 06, 2012 at 03:03 AM
Kinda makes you think about the ad with the Photoshopped picture of your favorite burger vs the crap that actually comes in the wrapper when you buy it. What's the difference? Shouldn't all advertising and packaging represent exactly what you are buying? Bending the truth like this has become an accepted form of lying. Most companies do it and it's what our politician's do everyday - just turn on the TV.
Helen October 09, 2012 at 12:51 PM
It's not JUST the "cartoon!" On their package they say: These hens are raised in wide open spaces in Sonoma Valley, where they are free to "roam, scratch and play." Yet take a look at the aerial picture of the facility...do you see any chickens roaming, scratching or playing? Millions of chickens live their entire miserable lives crammed into a warehouse, never to see the light of day. Gee, leave these poor people alone, they're employing lots of people and donating eggs to events and just trying to make an honest living... uh, NO! They're knowingly and purposefully deceiving people who actually have a conscience into spending three times the normal price to purchase their poisoned eggs by LYING and stating that these hens are living happy lives "playing!" Chickens are smart, living, breathing, sentient beings. Just because they can't talk doesn't mean they don't feel pain. Is it okay to torture a human baby just because he/she can't talk and tell you they hurt? I applaud the ALDF for making an example of these crooks, and I look forward to the day when they and all other animal torture chambers are shut down. The people that work for them need to find honest jobs that don't ride on the backs of these poor tortured beings. There's a reason they won't let anyone inside. Get a conscience and buy your eggs from a small local farm that doesn't paint a lying, deceptive cartoon on their box. Turning your back to the suffering of others, animal or human, is disgraceful.
Bill Fishman October 09, 2012 at 04:27 PM
Responding both to Sheri and to Helen: I don't know the guy who runs the company in question. I am all in favor of complete and honest labeling. I don't see anything about describing chickens as being "free to roam, scratch and play" that implies that they do it outside rather than inside. . . . and my observation of chicken's "playing" is that they find the weakest among them and peck them to death. That, literally, is what chickens do -- when they are not eating, drinking, and defecating. Sentient? Yes, of course. Entitled to humane treatment? Yes, of course. Entitled to be protected from skunks, weasels, coyotes and foxes that regularly prey on chickens that are raised outside? Yes, I think so. Torture because they are raised inside? I think not.
Sheri Cardo October 10, 2012 at 04:41 AM
Torture that they are raised inside without room to move around? I think so. I have seen chickens rescued from battery hen facilities feel the warmth of sunlight on their feathers for the first time and enjoy their first dust bath. Natural experiences that they never had had in their cramped indoor facilities. I'm not convinced we're on different pages, Bill, but your information needs updating.
Helen October 10, 2012 at 04:54 AM
Bill, do you think they're giving them "wide open spaces" indoors? Absolutely not. Google a picture of "free range" or "cage free" chickens and you'll see the horror these birds live in for their entire lives. They cram as many chickens as they can inside these facilities so that there is little if any room to even spread their wings. As I said, there's a reason they won't let anyone inside to witness this torture. The way these chickens are kept is not even close to humane, and anyone who thinks it is has no soul. From these tortured chickens come poisoned eggs...go ahead and eat them...and good luck not getting salmonella or some other form of disease, a fitting nature's revenge!
Samantha Bourdelier January 07, 2013 at 04:56 AM
There is no such thing as an ethical egg. Unless you are buying your eggs from a neighbor who has a small clutch of chickens there is no way. The way that a battery cage or free range free chickens are treated in fact the battery cage hens look better. I have seen a picture of cage free hens in a huge barn where the hens are just as crowded as if they were in a battery cage. The beaks of hens are cut off just the way the battery caged hens are. Also the male chicks are separated from the female chicks. They male chicks are killed because they cannot afford to be raised to maturity. They are either thrown in the garbage bin or ground up while they are still alive. This will happen whether they are free range, pasture eggs or cage free in large egg companies.. I saw this process on the Peta web site. It just made me sick at heart. See it for yourself. http://www.peacefulprairie.org/freerange1.html
Samantha Bourdelier January 07, 2013 at 05:12 AM
I think people should know that there is no such thing as a ethical egg. The difference between battery caged hens and free range hens and cage free hens are negligible. Then there is the pesky question about what is done with the male chicks. Since they cost too much to feed until maturity they are routinely thrown in the trash or ground up while still alive. Again that is the same with all chicks no matter if they are free range or cage free. It depends on the size of the hatchery. I must admit it has me confused. I wish I had neighbors who had chickens. Not where I live or I would have my own hens to treat as humanely as they deserve.
aDelphinium March 25, 2013 at 09:58 AM
Samantha; have you tried to find a community garden? I was a member of a community garden that had a bunch of chickens. These chickens are spoiled silly. They live much better than millions of people live. The chicken caretaker talks, sings to them. If he cooks something for diner, he gives them part of the dinner. Only problem was that the competition for the eggs was immense. You had to be there at the right time.

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